Returning to in-person work after six months (the last two being summer break) isn’t easy. It was chaotic and exhausting. And this is the start of the school year. I’m gonna pat myself on the back for deciding to take the summer off. The money I would have made working didn’t equal my mental and physical well-being. Plus, I can see the toll it took on my fellow staff. Even my most positive and joyful coworker is struggling right now.
These past two weeks held little structure and a lot of change. So, how did it go settling into a nonexistent routine? Going from hiking every morning to being in jail every day? Not just working in one location anymore, but being spread over two? I cried and didn’t sleep. Then I threw out six bags of old junk from people who used to work in my space. And to top it off, I spend three days all alone, in the center of a jail, with no windows waiting for a guy with a new modem who never showed.
But then a box arrived.
I knew COVID supplies we’re being shipped to each location of our program. Here’s what arrived in that box: two uber strength cleansers in squeezy bottles, four boxes of gloves, and a four-inch-wide role of black woven tape. My first thought was, what’s up with the murder box?
I called the administrative assistant of our program and asked, “What’s up with the murder room tape?”
A laugh came through the phone that I didn’t expect. When (let’s call her Janet) answered, her tone was short and clipped, obviously stressed and harried. But the laugh came straight from her toes to her mouth and startled me.
“Did you just ask about the murder room tape?” she asked between gasps.
“Yup, this whole box looked like it came out of Dexter. It’s only missing plastic sheeting.”
Janet laughed harder.
“I don’t understand what the murder tape has to do with COVID.” I was serious. I was at a loss. Also, my husband and I listen to a lot of ghost and murder podcasts like And That’s Why We Drink, and we spend September to November watching nonstop scary movies. None of it helps in moments like this.
Janet attempted to ask our boss what the tape was for but kept laughing. I could hear the annoyed responses from our boss in the other room. I think she felt left out of the joke and wanted a laugh too. Finally, Janet put me on hold to ask the question.
“You’re the only one who has asked about the tape, ” she told me when she returned. “But supposedly, it’s to mark places for COVID like cutting the hallway in half or marking off chairs.”
“Ah, or making a straight-up murder room. How can I be the only one who asked this question?”
“I don’t know, but no one else would ask it like that.”
Probably, but maybe they should. This situation is helter-skelter at worst and willy-nilly at best. If I look at a box of COVID supplies and see a murder box, so be it. That’s who I am. And if that makes someone else’s day brighter, all the better. Viewing three days alone with no internet or windows in the center of the jails as an opportunity to rid my world of other people’s baggage, awesome. These are just ways to deal with this stress.
But outside of work, I haven’t taken my after-work walks like I’d planned or done any writing (except this blog post) since work started two weeks ago. I’m not doing what I promised to care for my needs. My job isn’t going to get better or less messy any time soon. But my soul can’t take getting as stressed and unhappy as I was last spring. Besides, I can’t keep talking about murder tape and murder boxes at the jail. They’ll walk me across the hall and lock me up.
What are you doing to manage the weirdness and stress right now?